Leadership Lessons

Summertime Reading Suggestions for Music Directors

3 leadership books

What do authors C.S. Forester, Simon Sinek, Jocko Willink, and Leif Babin have in common?

They offer a fresh perspective on leadership principles, reflections perfectly applicable for the skill-set development of music teachers who desire to better “lead” their music programs, students, and parent boosters.

It was no accident that I chose these books to help explore the truths of inspiring confidence and leading groups of people like we do daily in our classrooms, rehearsal halls, and on the stages or marching band fields. Their use of military (as well as company or government management) anecdotes defines and re-enacts the very essence of leaders, leadership concepts, goals, and public service.

“These [military group] organizations have strong cultures and shared values, understand the importance of teamwork, create trust among their members, maintain focus, and, most important, understand the importance of people and relationships to their mission success.”

— From the Foreword of Leaders Eat First

Why do we admire music teacher “heroes” and most sought-after conference keynoters in our profession such as “Dr. Tim” Lautzenheiser, Peter Boonshaft, Scott Edgar*, and Bob Morrison* (*the latter two to be featured in the PMEA Summer Virtual Conference on July 20-24, 2020). They inspire us. They recharge us and pick up our spirits. They serve as models of visionaries and coaches. They challenge the status quo and help us to grow!

I believe these books will do the same, assist in your career development to morph into an even better leader and teacher. Since many of us are “stuck at home” during the pandemic for awhile, here is a new “reading list” for personal self-improvement.

EPISODE 1-MUTINY
ITV/Rex Archive: Ioan Gruffudd in “Hornblower” 2001 TV series

Who is Horatio Hornblower?

To start with, how about a series of historical fiction from the Napoleonic-Wars era?

Hornblower is a courteous, intelligent, and skilled seaman, and perhaps one of my favorite examples of an adaptable “leader.” Although burdened by his (almost shy) reserve, introspection, and self-doubt (he is described as “unhappy and lonely”), the Forester collection illustrates numerous stories of his personal feats of extraordinary cunning, on-the-spot problem solving, and bravery. The first book spotlights an unpromising seasick midshipman who grows into a highly acclaimed, productive, and ethical officer of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, gaining promotion steadily as a result of his skill and daring, despite his initial poverty and lack of influential friends. And yet, the common thread throughout is that he belittles his achievements by numerous rationalizations, remembering only his fears.

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74-gun Royal Navy Ship-of-the-line ~1794

“Hornblower’s leadership is thoroughly self-conscious: what makes him a great leader, morally, is that he assumes as a matter course that he must lead rather than he can lead; Hornblower’s pervasive sense of responsibility would be diminished if it all came to him naturally and that he acts therefore as each situation demands. He can be self-effacing or fierce, or obsequious, all depending on what is necessary to get the job done. As it happens, Hornblower‘s many other gifts, including a formidable diligence, always beyond the call of duty, and a supple intelligence, make him a man others trust and lean on; but for the reader, especially young reader, it’s his moral qualities that are most engaging, it is instructive.”

by Igor Webb, Hudson Review

This set is a wonderful “chestnut” to acquire, sit back in your leather recliner, and devour over the coming months. Even though it may take you some significant time to finish Forester’s eleven novels (one unfinished) and five short stories, I promise you, it will all be worth it!

[If you like the Hornblower assortment, also checkout the works by Alexander Kent and Dudley Pope, all drawing parallels to the exploits of real naval officers of the time: Sir George Cockburn, Lord Cochran, Sir Edward Pellew, Jeremiah Coghlan, Sir James Gordon, and Sir William Hoste.]

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Now, how can you personally glean new leadership habits from this treasure chest? Coincidental to doing some research for this blog, I bumped into the article on LinkedIn “Leadership Lessons Learned from Horatio Hornblower.” My sincere thanks and “attaboy” go to Amro Masaad, Education and STEM Leader at Middlesex County Academies, who gave me permission to share his documentation and insightful interpretation of the following leadership tips learned from Hornblower that we can all employ as “best practices” in the education profession:

  1. Don’t be afraid to stand up to a bully.
  2. Don’t insist that all of your successes be praised.
  3. Don’t let employees sabotage your mission.
  4. If you want excellence, you can’t look the other way.
  5. Prove yourself when the situation demands it.
  6. Take one for the team.
  7. Show sacrifice and honor, even with your enemies.

I have always been inspired by the adventures of Hornblower, mostly because of his displays of humanity at a time in history when things were inhumane and primitive. Hornblower consistently modeled his intentions for the care and success of his subordinates while other officers “stepped on them” to get advancement, his unimpeachable moral code that guided his every action, and “taking it on the chin” when necessary for his shipmates and the good of “god and country.”

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Leaders Eat Last

I was struck by this quote by Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Action, who posted a popular TedTalk lecture of the same name:

“There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold the position of power or authority, but those who lead, inspire us. Whether they are individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And, it’s those who start with ‘the why’ that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others to inspire them.”

TEDxPugetSound

silent-drill-platoon-1398509_1920_skeezeHis latest book, Leaders Eat Last, brings up the rationale of mutual collaboration and prioritizing the mission and the needs of your team members. Sinek observed that some teams were able to trust each other 100%, so much so that they would be willing to put their lives on the line for each other, while other groups, no matter what enticements or special incentives were offered, were “doomed to infighting, fragmentation and failure.” Why was this true?

“The answer became clear during our conversation with the Marine Corps general. ‘Officers eat last,’ he said. Sinek watched as the most junior Marines ate first while the most senior Marines took their place at the back of the line. What’s symbolic in the chow hall is deadly serious on the battlefield: great leaders sacrifice their own comfort – even their own survival – for the good of those in their care.”

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

Throughout his book of vivid narratives from armed conflicts to business “revolutions” of take-overs or new CEO transformations, Sinek dives into the precepts of what constitutes “great” leadership:

  • The value of empathy should not be underestimated.
  • Trust and loyalty exist on a two-way street – to earn them, leaders must first extent them to their team members.
  • The role of leadership is to look out for (and take care of) those inside their “circle of safety.”
  • For the success of the team, goals must be tangible, visible, collaborative, and written down.
  • Leaders know: There is power in “paying it forward.” It feels good to help people, or when someone does something nice to us, or even when we witness someone else doing something good.
  • It’s also a big deal when leaders express that final personal touch and shake hands.
  • Leadership is all about service… to the “real, living, normal human beings with whom we work every day.”

I have never found a better source for defining the four “chemical incentives” in our bodies (also known as hormones) and numerous actual examples of their daily use (and misuse): endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.

UnSelfieAlso intriguing is an expanded Chapter 24 and Appendix section in the book called “A Practical Guide to Leading Millennials.” Similar to another suggestion for summer perusal, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba, Ed.D (Simon & Schuster, 2017) which focuses more on our current young “charges,” Sinek’s differentiation is provided to inspire and educate the ultimate multitaskers of the “distracted generation.”

“This is what it means to be a leader. It means they choose to go first into danger, headfirst toward the unknown. And when we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers.”

“The biology is clear: When it matters most, leaders who are willing to eat last are rewarded with deeply loyal colleagues who will stop at nothing to advance their leaders vision and their organization’s interests. It’s amazing how well it works.”

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

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Extreme Ownership

This next leadership philosophy, the core premise of the book Extreme Ownership – How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, will not surprise anyone who has ever taken on the inherently risky task of programming a student concert, marching field show, dance recital, or musical/play: the music director assumes full responsibility for the failures and faux pas that may occur during the performance, but instrumentalists, singers, actors, and/or dancers should get all the credit for a successful production.

“Combat, the most intense and dynamic environment imaginable, teaches the toughest leadership lessons with absolutely everything at stake. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin learned this reality firsthand on the most violent and dangerous battlefields in Iraqi. As leaders of SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser, their mission was one many thought impossible: help US forces secure Ramada, a violent, insurgent-held city deemed “all but lost.“ In gripping, firsthand accounts of heroism, tragic loss, and hard-won victories, they learned that leadership – at every level – is the most important factor in whether a team succeeds or fails.”

Front panel of the hardback Extreme Ownership

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This is a comprehensive textbook on Leadership 101. Admittedly, the rehash of their battle scenes are scary. This is a world so far apart from anything I have ever experienced. We do owe all our veterans a massive depth of gratitude to face such dangers to defend our freedoms and way of life. (As an inexperienced teacher, the worst fear I ever had to face was a homeroom of 99 excitable and talkative Freshman girls in my first year as the high school choral director.)

When possible, I try to share the Contents (chapter titles) of my book recommendations, giving you a broad glimpse of the outline of their publication:

  1. Extreme Ownership
  2. US Navy SEAL Team Three [ST3][Patch][1.5]No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
  3. Believe
  4. Check the Ego
  5. Cover and Move
  6. Simple
  7. Prioritize and Execute
  8. Decentralized Command
  9. Plan
  10. Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
  11. Decisiveness Amid Uncertainty
  12. Discipline Equals Freedom – the Dichotomy of Leadership

From these sections, we can explore these fundamental building-blocks and mindsets necessary to lead and win.

Part I: Winning the War Within (Chapters 1-4)

  • Leaders must own everything in the world. There is no one else to blame.
  • A leader must be a true believer in the mission.
  • Even more important then “the how” and “the what” is “the why” of any plan. Not knowing the rationale of a decision or goal is a recipe for failure. It is a leader’s job to understand the mission and communicate it to his/her team members.*
  • During situations lacking clarity, leaders ask questions.
  • Leaders temper overconfidence by instilling culture within the team to never be satisfied and to push themselves harder to continuously improve performance.
  • Leaders know that over-inflated egos cloud judgment and disrupt everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to except constructive criticism.

* Who said “great minds think alike?” (Answer: Carl Theodor von Unlanski.) The concept of “the why” is also described in great detail in the aforementioned TedTalk by Simon Sinek.

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Part II: Laws of Combat (Chapters 5-8)

  • Elements within the “greater team” are crucial and must work together to accomplish the mission, mutually supporting one another for that singular purpose.
  • In life, there are inherent complexities. It is critical to keep plans and communication simple. Complex goals and plans add to confusion which can compound into disaster.
  • Competent leaders can utilize their own version of the SEAL’s prioritize and execute. It is simple as, “relax, look around, and make a call.” Prioritize your problems and take care of them one at a time, the highest priority first. Don’t try to do everything at once or you won’t be successful.
  • Leaders delegate responsibility, trust and empower junior leaders to make decisions on their own as they become proactive to achieve the overall goal or task.

Part III: Sustaining Victory (Chapters 9-12)

  • Effective planning begins with an analysis of the mission’s purpose, definition of the goals, and communication of clear directives for the team.
  • Effective leaders keep the planning focused, simple, and understandable to all of the team members and stakeholders.
  • Leadership doesn’t just go down the chain of command, but up as well. Communication to your supervisors is also key.
  • Leaders must be decisive, comfortable under pressure, and act on logic, not emotion.
  • In challenging situations, there is no 100% right solution, and the picture is never complete.
  • Leaders have self-control and “intrinsic self-discipline,” a matter of personal will. They “make time” by getting up early.
  • Self-discipline makes you more flexible, adaptable, and efficient, and allows leaders and team members alike to be creative.
  • A leader must lead, but also be ready to follow.

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A Leadership Recap for Music Teachers

I am probably not doing justice to these incredible resources. They offer an exhaustive body of knowledge and examples on leadership ideology as well as a dazzling array of practical advice on what habits/skills are essential to become an effective leader. You need to sit back and devour these books one-by-one, apply their relevance to your situation, and come to your own conclusions about prioritizing the needs for your own personal leadership development.

To sum up a few of the theories from all this literature, we could revisit page 277 in Extreme Ownership and quote “The Dichotomy of Leadership” by Jocko Willnick.

“A good leader must be:

  • confident but not cocky;
  • courageous but not foolhardy;
  • competitive but a gracious loser;
  • attentive to details but not obsessed by them;
  • strong but have endurance;
  • a leader and follower;
  • humble not passive;
  • aggressive not overbearing;
  • quiet not silent;
  • calm but not robotic;
  • logical but not devoid of emotions;
  • close with the troops but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge;
  • able to execute Extreme Ownership while exercising Decentralized Command.”

“A good leader has nothing to prove but everything to prove!”

—  Extreme Ownership

Many years ago, my wife and I were fortunate to participate in almost all of those early PMEA Summer Conferences that were basically leadership training workshops. Initiated and inspired by our first guest clinician Michael Kumer (who was then “modeling leadership” first-hand as Dean of Music for Duquesne University), we were exposed to a rich curriculum of “the greats” on leadership, team building, time management, and professional development. If you have not consumed them yourself, a few of these resources from the first couple years should be added to your reading list:

  • 7 HabitsOne Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
  • First Things First and other sections from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People series by Stephen Covey
  • A Kick in the Seat of the Pants: Using Your Explorer, Artist, Judge, and Warrior to Be More Creative and A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative by Roger Von Oech

As a part of fulfilling “total ensemble experience” and to make the learning meaningful, I have always “taught” leadership to my students. The settings may have varied, whether it was as a part of the longstanding tradition of training marching band leaders, student conductors or principals’ who ran sectionals, our spring musical “leadership team” of directors, producers, and crew heads, elected high school choir officers, participants (grades 6-12) in a six-day string camp seminar, or even booster parents in a “chaperone orientation.” Many of my own often-repeated leadership quotes were passed down:

  • “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” – Vince Lombardi
  • “You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” – Ken Kesey
  • “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” – Abraham Lincoln
  • “The very essence of leadership is you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” – Rev. Theodore Hesburgh
  • “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” – Stephen R. Covey

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Finally, to close this seemingly-endless essay, I would share one of my regular but more unique lessons: “leaders flush.” We advise our plebe leaders-in-training that when anyone on the team sees an opportunity to take care of something that’s not right, or someone who needs help, or a problem that can be resolved on their own, they should take it upon themselves to do what is necessary for the greater good. We cite the example that, if you visit a restroom and discover someone before you did not flush the toilet, you do what’s right. Leaders flush.

PKF

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

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Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

More on Teacher Interviews

Coaching Advice for Acing Those Employment Interview Questions

There is a huge body of information on preparing for the job search process, interviews, and marketing yourself previously posted at this site. Where should you go first? Be sure to survey the following blogs:

What else do you think we should cover on this topic? How about some specific “coaching” in recommended answers to commonly asked interview questions… tips from the experts, HR staff, interviewers, supervisors, and the like. We give each resource “the baton” and “the podium” to offer a glimpse in the triumphs, pitfalls, and pratfalls of frequently observed interviewee responses. For grasping the full comprehension and context, follow-up by reading the entire article posted at each link.

Many of these suggestions are geared to “general education” teacher interviews, but you can apply them to whatever specialty or grade level to which you are applying. After all, the person sitting at the other side of the desk is probably an administrator or director of curriculum, not a current/former music educator.

Again, be sure to visit each website. All told, there are more than 108 sample questions and responses in these collections below!

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What is your teaching philosophy?

Teacher interview questions like this ask, “Are you a good fit for our school?” It’s the teaching equivalent of “tell me about yourself.” But —

Don’t answer elementary teacher interview questions for an unstructured school with, “I believe in structured learning.”

Take the time to learn the school’s philosophy before the interview.

Example answer: “I believe in teaching to each student’s passion. For instance, in one kindergarten class, my students had trouble with punctuation. I observed that one student, Mary, suddenly got excited about apostrophes. I fueled her passion with a big book on punctuation. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and soon the entire class was asking bright and animated questions. Whenever possible, I try to deliver structured lessons in an unstructured way like this.”

That answer uses the S.T.A.R. approach to teaching interview questions. It shows a Situation, a Task, an Action, and a Result.

“25 Teacher Interview Questions and Answers” by Tom Gerencer

This is from a Zety “career toolbox” website. They also offer an outstanding app to “build” a resume, CV, and cover letter, all with excellent examples.

 

Why do you want to be a teacher/work with children?

You have to know who you are as an individual and as an educator, and you have to know what you can bring to the school… This question gets to the heart of that self-awareness and passion. The interviewer wants to know: What drew you to this field, specifically?

How to answer it: It’s obvious of course, but you don’t want to say, “Summer vacations!” This should be easy to answer simply because there’s probably something you can think of that made you want to get into education. Maybe you love teaching your friends new things, or are a facts wizard bursting with knowledge, or love connecting with children. Focus not just on what you like about teaching but also on what you can… bring to the table.

For example, you might say: “I really admired my third grade teacher, Mrs. Kim, when I was younger, and even after I left her class I still felt myself drawn to her for advice and guidance over the years. It’s that sense of warmth and acceptance she provided me that inspired me to become a teacher. I want to be that person others can lean on as they navigate the oftentimes tough waters of growing up.”

“15 Common Questions Asked in a Teacher Interview (and How to Answer Them With Ease)” by Alyse Kalish

In addition, the site above shares several important pointers from Calvin Brown, Senior Recruiter at Alignstaffing, an education staffing firm, and Dan Swartz, Managing Director at Resolve Talent Consulting, LLC, a firm that specializes in education recruitment.

Reaffirming the blog S is for storytelling at interviews: “If you have a situation or a story with a great outcome, absolutely share [it],” says Brown. “Stories are also a great ways to highlight your expertise and skill set if you don’t come with a traditional background in education.” Swartz adds, “Even if you’re not a teacher with experience, you can still highlight how you go about your work by giving past examples and scenarios of engaging others.”

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How would you handle a difficult student?

Mary Findley, Senior Teacher Success Manager at Skillshare, former Teach for America Core Member and elementary school teacher, suggests this scenario and answer:

“When students are disengaged, it’s either because the content’s too challenging, it’s too easy, or there could be some outside-of-school factors,” explains Findley. A good answer delves into figuring out the cause, as that’s often the most important step.

Then, your response should show that “you’re meeting the student where they’re at and building on their strengths,” she says. It should also emphasize that you’re “collaboratively discussing” solutions with the student rather than ordering them around. If you have an example story to tell, that’s a great way to state your case.

You could say: “For me, the first step would be to pull them aside and address the issue privately. My biggest questions would be about deciphering what might be the root cause of this student’s bad behavior. Once I know what may be contributing to their difficulty, I really try to work with them to come up with a solution. I used this strategy in my last classroom, where I had a student who couldn’t seem to stay in his seat during lessons. We talked about how his behavior affected the rest of the class and why he kept moving around, and we agreed that when he was feeling really anxious he could raise his hand and I’d let him take a lap around the classroom, but only when it was appropriate. I also decided to make some of my lessons more active and hands-on so that other students could benefit from getting out of their seats every once in a while.”

“15 Common Questions Asked in a Teacher Interview (and How to Answer Them With Ease)” by Alyse Kalish

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How do you incorporate social-emotional learning in your lessons?

Many states and districts have added requirements for social-emotional learning into their standards. Explain how you will not only tend to the academic needs of your students but tie in lessons that satisfy the core SEL competencies. Describe how you will help students build their self- and social-awareness skills, how you will support them in building relationships, and how you will give them the skills to make responsible decisions. 

“18 Interview Questions Every Teacher Must Be Able to Answer” by Brandie Freeman

If you have never heard the term “core SEL competencies” in your methods classes, peruse the online article “Building SEL Competency in the Elementary School Music Classroom” by Lindsey Jackson, posted on the NAfME Music in a Minuet website.

How will you meet the needs of the students in your class who are advanced or say they’re bored?

and

How will you engage reluctant learners?

School leaders don’t want to hear canned responses about how you can differentiate; they want you to give some concrete answers and support your ideas. Perhaps you help get kids prepared for scholastic competitions once they’ve mastered the standard (spelling bee or chemistry olympiad, anyone?). Maybe you offer more advanced poetry schemes for your English classes or alternate problem-solving methods for your math students. Whatever it is, make sure that you express the importance that all students are engaged, even the ones that are already sure to pass the state standardized test.

Teaching in an age when we must compete with Fortnite, Snapchat, and other forms of instant entertainment makes this question valid and necessary. How will you keep students’ heads off their desks, their pencils in their hands, and their phones in their pockets? Share specific incentive policies, engaging lessons you’ve used, or ways you’ve built relationships to keep students on task. An anecdote of how a past student (remember to protect privacy) that you taught was turned on to your subject because of your influence would also help your credibility here.

“18 Interview Questions Every Teacher Must Be Able to Answer” by Brandie Freeman

women-1687852_1920_melysernaWhat are your greatest weaknesses?

Considered one of the “trick” or unfair questions by many, you should still be ready for it. One of the keys to sounding sincere is to personalize your response, and provide specific examples of the “problem,” self-improvement goals, and positive growth and progress.

At some point during the interview process, you may be asked to describe your personal strengths and weaknesses. Many job candidates are unsure about how to approach this question. However, by establishing the appropriate context, you can give hiring managers an honest, thoughtful answer that highlights both your self-awareness and professionalism.

Preparing ahead of time for this question is a valuable use of your time before the interview. Even if you aren’t asked about your strengths and weaknesses specifically, scripting out your response to this common question will give you a candid yet compelling description of what you bring to the table and how you wish to grow in the future.

job-interview-2552411_1920_shaukingBecause we all have weaknesses but rarely want to admit to them, it’s best to begin with a truthful answer and build your script from there. Select an answer that a hiring manager would not consider to be essential qualities or skills for the position as well as qualities that you are actively improving.

Some examples of weaknesses include:

  • Disorganized
  • Self-Critical/Sensitive
  • Perfectionism (Note: this can be a strength in many roles, so be sure you have an example of how perfectionism can be a problem to demonstrate that you’ve thought deeply about this trait)
  • Shy/Not adept at public speaking
  • Competitive (Note: Similarly to perfectionism, this can be a strength)
  • Limited experience in a non-essential skill (especially if obvious on your resume)
  • Not skilled at delegating tasks
  • Take on too much responsibility
  • Not detail-oriented/Too detail-oriented
  • Not comfortable taking risks
  • Too focused/Lack of focus

Example weakness: Perfectionism

“I tend to be a perfectionist and can linger on the details of a project which can threaten deadlines. Early on in my career, when I worked for ABC Inc., that very thing happened. I was laboring over the details and in turn, caused my manager to be stressed when I almost missed the deadline on my deliverables. I learned the hard way back then, but I did learn. Today I’m always aware of how what I’m doing affects my team and management. I’ve learned how to find the balance between perfect and very good and being timely.”

target-1414775_1920_DeedsterExample weakness: Difficulty with an area of expertise

“Math wasn’t my strongest subject in school. To be honest, as a student, I didn’t understand how it would be applicable in my adult life. Within a few years of being in the working world, though, I realized that I wanted to take my career in a more analytical direction. At first, I wasn’t sure where to begin, but I found some free online courses that refreshed the important basics for me. In my most recent job, this new foundation has enabled me to do my own goal setting and tracking. Actually, getting over the math anxiety I had when I was younger has been incredibly empowering.”

“50 Teacher Interview Questions and Answers to Help You Prepare” from Indeed.com

One final resource, perhaps more focused on business or company interviews, but still applicable to education positions, is the work of author, career counselor and interview coach Robin Ryan. Knowing that college students are by necessity drawn to “free stuff,” I would first view one of her YouTube videos such as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_lgyK37JJM or venture into reading her “how-to” articles at http://www.robinryan.com/index.php/articles. There are some excellent gems perfect for “collegiates” here:

60 seconds and youre hiredFocusing on Robin Ryan’s “interview tools” such as “the five-point agenda” and “60-second sell,” her book 60 Seconds and You’re Hired ” is inspiring and provides much greater depth (76 pages!) on answering those “thorny” interview questions. Nearly all of the sample questions above are also analyzed, offering easy-to-understand comments and recommendations for specific career paths. For example, Robin Ryan also weighs in on that inquiry “What is your greatest weakness?” – first offering to joke about it “I cannot resist chocolate!” and then, if it is reiterated, endorsing a strategy to share a work habit problem (like being a “Type-A” person) on which you are currently improving but is not critical for the position they are seeking to fill.

To sum up the book, these are my favorite sections:

  • Chapter 2: The Five Point Agenda
  • Chapter 3: The 60-Second Sell
  • Chapter 5: Interview Etiquette (including tips on proper dress, good manners, nonverbal and verbal communication, the hand shake, and eye contact)
  • Chapter 7: 60-Second Answers to Tough, Tricky Answers
  • Chapter 12: 12 Pitfalls to Avoid

In conclusion, as stated throughout all of this literature on interview techniques, the keys to success are preparation and practice… just like getting ready for your semester jury or senior recital. After studying these materials, collaborate with your peers to hold “mock interviews,” video-record yourself answering the questions, and take time to review and self-assess. Yes, you CAN and WILL do well at future employment screenings!

PKF

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Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com:

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

 

Life Hacks for Musicians

The Laws of Practicing & More Tips on Preparing Music

foxsfiresides

Many of the early South Hills Junior Orchestra “Fox’s Firesides” are about developing new techniques to solve musical problems, dispelling the myth that all you need to do is put in the time. Is there any truth in “practice makes perfect?” Not really. It is more critical that all instrumentalists set-up a regular schedule for focused practice, limiting all distractions, defining and working on goals, and then the truer adage can be modeled: “perfect practice develops perfect playing.”

Perhaps since January is the first month of The New Year, this would be a good time to review the different practice techniques we have already published at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/, especially #1, #4, and #8.

Here are a few more ideas, “borrowed” from my former place of employment – the Upper St. Clair School District Performing Arts Department.

 

THE LAWS OF PRACTICING

The 24-Hour Law – It takes 24 hours for yesterday’s lesson to be learned.

The Perfect Attendance Law – Practicing a little every day always beats cramming.

The Three Musketeers Law – Never practice without a metronome, tuner, or recording device to hear how you sound.

The “Elephant in the Room” Law – One must “face the music,” specifically, the musical passage with which they are struggling the most.

The Sloth Law – When in doubt, play it slower.

 

LIFE HACKS (Practice Edition)

Sloth Hack – Playing slower, to the point that it is impossible to mess up.

Jaws Hack – Slur a passage with which you are struggling.

seriestoshare-logo-01Karaoke Hack – Play the passage in conjunction with your favorite recording of the piece.

Time Trial Hack – Put a timer on for a few minutes and see how much you can accomplish in a short amount of time.

Drop the Bass Hack – If a passage is too high, play it down an octave.

Cheat Code Hack – Simplify a rhythm if you are struggling to learn it.

Here are several additional websites with excellent “hack” recommendations for developing better practice skills, but don’t forget to ask your school music director and private teacher for more advice!

 

Keep up your commitment to and PRACTICE towards real self-improvement, creative self-expression, making beautiful music, and participating in your school and community bands and orchestras!

PKF

hi-res logo 2018

 

The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of LIFE HACKS for Musicians

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fireplace” by judenicholson

On the Road Again…

PA_Turnpike_Commission_logo.svgI hate the Pennsylvania Turnpike… but I’ll get over it!

Over the 43+ years that I’ve been involved in music education conferences starting in college and attending our annual events in Lancaster, Hershey, Valley Forge, and everywhere else, I have used this “blessed” road.

Oh, it’s much better now. There are more stretches of 70 mph speed limits, and even the rest stops and restaurants are improved than they were 10 and 20 years ago. However, the twisting-twining roads, usual “bad weather” (why does it always rain or snow during the state conference?), need to jockey for position with all those large tractor-trailer trucks, etc. always challenge my nerves and patience.

Hey, it’s what we do. And I’ll never give it up.

The annual trek for acquisition of professional development remain such a critical element for self-improvement, program assessment, and personal enrichment. The annual spring and summer conferences of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association offer an incredible depth of new materials, methods, and perspective, not to mention the all-so-essential networking, “catch-up with colleagues,” and collaboration of ideas.

As they say in the movie Shawshank Redemption (1994), “get busy living or get busy dying.” In this business, we have to look forward, seek innovation and reinvention, “build a better mouse trap,“ and absorb advice from “the latest and greatest” clinicians and “people on the move.” That’s how you GROW!

For more than four decades, I have never attended a day of professional development or a conference that I didn’t learn a myriad of new things, feel refreshed and recharged, and return to “make a difference” in my classroom, my school, and my program.

pmeaSoon I will be attending my 51st PMEA conference (counting springs and summers). I always feel a little nostalgic this time a year when I recollect all of those PMEA District, Region State, and All-State festivals, the latter held in conjunction with the music educators conference. I’m also remembering all the times I took my students to these events, capturing memories of specific individuals, singing in their choral parts in the car, swapping old stories about previous orchestras, choirs, and conductors, and providing a few last-minute tips on how to take auditions.

Now that I’m retired, my time is more devoted in making presentations and sharing a portion of what is now a vast vault of hard-won knowledge, skills, and experiences in order to help my colleagues with their unique situations and problems. They say that “work” provides us with the three essential elements of purpose, structure, and community. Even in retirement, participating in PMEA provides me all these things and the chance to continue to interact with like-minded and committed music educators, literally for the good of the profession.

In my capacity as PMEA state retired member coordinator, I sponsor a breakfast meeting prior to the Friday morning sessions at the annual spring conference, and I have the pmea conferenceprivilege of keeping “in tune” with fellow retirees, active practitioners, and even members of our PCMEA pre-service music teachers. This has stimulated my mind, kept me current, made me a better listener, and fostered a lot of moments of satisfaction knowing that I can still help dedicated professionals in the career that I devoted most of my life.

For those of you who have never attended a PMEA spring conference, shame on you. The annual state-of-the-art music teacher clinics, music industry exhibits, keynote presenters, and “best in the state” performances are provided to inspire you and “recharge your batteries.” Take a few personal days and see what’s up. For Pennsylvania music educators during April 19-21, 2018, we are at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. (For a schedule of sessions, concerts, and meetings, go to https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/2018-Conf-Schedule-from-Spring-News-edit-3.26.pdf.) Next year, we will convene in my hometown, Pittsburgh, a combined in-service conference with the biennial NAfME Eastern Division.

Lancaster-City-Marriott

Finally, for those of you who have retired from day-to -day teaching of music classes, going to PMEA spring and summer conferences also offers you the opportunity to explore our fine state, visit historical sites, taste the cuisine, soak up the landscapes, and see the unique attractions in each city. Lancaster is a great place to take excursions. Did anyone suggest “road trip” for the grandchildren? Here are a few of the local (family-friendly) attractions you could “squeeze around” the official PMEA-scheduled events:

Pittsburgh_skyline_panorama_at_night

When you plan to come to Pittsburgh during the first week of April 2019, I want you to take an extra day if you can and enjoy our cultural attractions, sports events in one of the three stadiums, landmarks like the Blockhouse, Fort Duquesne, Point State Park, and the three rivers themselves, and go to places like the Carnegie Science Center, Andy Warhol Museum, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, etc.

So much to do and so little time…

PKF

 

You are cordially invited to…

MM1

…a PMEA session for soon-to-retire and retired music teachers

MM2

 

© 2018 Paul K. Fox